RMI’s India Program Launches the Urban Mobility Lab

When Rocky Mountain Institute’s cofounder and chief scientist, Amory Lovins, first met with Indian government officials in March 2016 to explore opportunities for collaboration, India’s ambitions in renewable energy and clean transportation were quickly moving from idea to action. More than two years later, India continues to make progress toward its goals, and RMI is now supporting India’s ambitions in the mobility, buildings, and electricity sectors—most recently through the launch of our Urban Mobility Lab, a program to support the development of integrated mobility solutions in Indian cities.

The Growth of Our India Program

Since Amory’s initial engagements in India, RMI’s India Program has grown in scope and impact. The enthusiasm for and commitment to India’s mobility leapfrog in both the public and private sectors have created many opportunities for impactful partnerships and collaborations.

While our work to accelerate India’s mobility transformation has not been easy, the magnitude of the challenge and the urgency of the situation continue to humble and motivate us. Here are a few facts about the situation:

Amory often reminds us of wise words from his mentor, Edwin Land: “Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.” The potential impact of a mobility transformation for India is tremendous: shifting to a shared, clean, and connected mobility paradigm could save India as much as 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and $60 billion in annual petrol/diesel costs in 2030. Optimizing vehicle use will also result in less congestion and greater transportation safety. Yet the challenges are persistent, and will require many inspired individuals and organizations to address them.

For nearly two years, RMI’s work has focused on supporting strategy and thought leadership at the central government level. We have been working in partnership with NITI Aayog, India’s premier national policy think tank, to set a vision for India’s mobility future and outline opportunities for near-term action, including proposing design considerations for a feebate policy to encourage the adoption of clean vehicles and developing a strategy to establish an estimated $300 billion domestic battery manufacturing industry and market. Outside the mobility space, we are spurring the development of a residential cooling technology that consumes five times less grid electricity than today’s standard products through the Global Cooling Prize, and exploring new projects in the buildings and electricity sectors.

Now, we are launching the Urban Mobility Lab—a program that works with Indian cities to adapt solutions to local mobility needs through demonstration and market shaping at the city and state levels. This program represents RMI’s first state- and city-level work in India, and fills a gap expressed by government officials, including the CEO of NITI Aayog, Amitabh Kant, who called for integrated pilots when he said that India “must develop and test mobility solutions on the ground.” 

The Urban Mobility Lab

Our time working in India has taught us that a large opportunity exists in working directly with cities and states, as they are beginning to take the lead in developing their own clean vehicle policies and initiatives. Among many other reasons to work with cities and states, cities can act as proof points for India’s mobility transformation by serving as test beds for pilot projects, and states are responsible for most transportation policy in India.

Through the Urban Mobility Lab, RMI will provide a platform that supports a replicable process for identifying, implementing, and scaling mobility solutions in Indian cities. The goal of the program is to create examples of integrated mobility solutions to serve as a model for Indian cities—and the rest of the world—in transitioning to shared, clean, and connected mobility. The program has three primary components:

  • Lighthouse Cities, which host workshops to identify, integrate, and implement pilot projects in those geographies;
  • Scaling Partner cities, which participate in workshops held in the Lighthouse Cities and scale tried-and-tested solutions to their own cities; and
  • A platform for sharing lessons learned from pilot projects to accelerate action and inform government policymaking across India.

India’s mobility transition is already taking hold, and the Urban Mobility Lab is designed to accelerate and scale this transition in leading geographies. We are excited to begin collaborating with solution providers, government officials, and other stakeholders to work toward the common goal of an accessible, affordable, efficient, and clean mobility future for India.

Pune Is the Urban Mobility Lab’s first Lighthouse City

Pune, Maharashtra, a city in southern India with a population of over 3 million, has been selected as India’s first Lighthouse City for mobility solutions. An independent committee selected Pune through a Grand Challenge competition issued by NITI Aayog and RMI in November 2017. Pune stood out for its strong government support and leadership, demonstrated action on key aspects of urban mobility, and progress on the Smart Cities Mission—an urban renewal and retrofitting program by the Government of India with the mission to develop 100 sustainable, citizen-friendly cities across the country.

Five other cities—Bangalore, Karnataka; Kochi, Kerala; Hyderabad, Telangana; Mumbai, Maharashtra; and Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh—have been chosen as Scaling Partners. Together, the five states involved in the Urban Mobility Lab’s network represent 20 percent of India’s population and 30 percent of India’s economic output.

As the first Lighthouse City, Pune will host a multiday workshop in August 2018 to help project teams accelerate solutions to complex mobility problems and implement those solutions as a portfolio of integrated pilot projects. The workshop will engage both public- and private-sector partners in a facilitated process, similar to RMI’s eLab efforts, to work together on common barriers and solutions, gather insight into government processes, and make bold commitments and action plans to guide their implementation efforts. In preparation for the workshop, our team is conducting a needs assessment of Pune’s transportation system, and beginning to recruit project teams with solutions that meet the city’s needs.

Looking Ahead

Beyond Pune and the first cohort of Scaling Partner cities, we plan to expand the Urban Mobility Lab to other Indian cities, and potentially to cities in other parts of the world over time. A lot has happened since RMI’s India program launched two years ago, and we continue to find exciting opportunities for impactful collaboration. We look forward to seeing where the next two years will take us.

Image courtesy of iStock.